Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coming soon: "Hitchcock for the Holidays"

Posted By on 12.22.11 at 03:00 PM

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Few cinematic bodies of work have inspired more critical discourse than Alfred Hitchcock’s, some of it revelatory (e.g., Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol’s groundbreaking Hitchcock: The First Forty-four Films, Robin Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films Revisited), much of it impenetrably theoretical (e.g., the Lacanian analysis that’s ruined Hitchcock for countless undergraduates). It’s a testament to the films’ universal appeal that they’ve provoked such a variety of responses—though the mountains of critical writing wouldn’t exist if the most enduring response weren’t one of pleasure. For a reminder of what an impeccable entertainer Hitchcock was (as if you needed one), head to the Music Box any day between Christmas and January 4, and check out its ten-film “Hitchcock for the Holidays” series.

The films have been organized into five thematically-joined double features, making it easier for aspiring scholars to chart the development of key ideas across different periods of Hitchcock’s career. The most inspired pairing may be Rope with Strangers on a Train (on December 27 & 28), which contain the strongest gay subtext of any Hitchcock films (Farley Granger, the bisexual star of both films, has interesting things to say about them in his autobiography Include Me Out); though the back-to-back screenings of Rear Window and Rebecca (on December 25 & 26) should bring out the romanticism of the former and the voyeurism of the latter.

Less imaginative, but no less rewarding, is the final program of The Birds and Marnie (on January 2 & 3). Hitchcock’s two collaborations with Tippi Hedren, a not-quite-actress who made her way through both films as though walking on eggshells, lay bare the themes of passivity and control that disturb even his brightest efforts. These themes would find their richest articulation in Vertigo, which is, in Dave Kehr’s assessment “perhaps the most personal movie to emerge from the Hollywood cinema.” Vertigo screens here (on December 29 & 30) with To Catch a Thief, a decidedly less personal film that nonetheless shares a structure based on the idea of the return. Cary Grant’s retired thief re-enters the world of crime in order to clear his name while James Stewart’s traumatized detective resurrects his dead lover in Vertigo out of compulsive need, but both films characterize the past as vindictive and inescapable.

This theme is really just a variation of Hitchcock’s single most consistent subject—and the one he depicted better than any other filmmaker—the mechanics of guilt. Feel free to make your own joke about the series being essential holiday viewing.

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